If you’re a book lover – and, really, why else would you be here? – trying to decide where to land after finishing a great book is a familiar feeling. You’ve plowed your way through your latest literary love affair, but as is the bookworm’s plight, the craving for more remains. While it can be tempting to return to the comfortable, solid ground of well-tread genres, there’s something to be said for stepping out of that comfort zone and exploring new terrain.
For the fiction-obsessed, the world of nonfiction can seem a daunting – and possibly uninteresting – one. After all, what could real life possibly offer over the goings-on in Westeros, a solitary astronaut’s struggle for survival on Mars, or the disturbing prescience of a handmaid’s life in Gilead? The answer, fortunately, is quite a lot. If you’re in search of a change of pace, nonfiction – narrative nonfiction in particular – offers a host of options no matter your taste in fiction. Here are a few recommendations to get you started.
Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment
Edited and with an introduction by Angela J. Davis
If You’ve Read: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Try: Policing the Blackman: Arrest. Prosecution, and Imprisonment Edited by Angela Davis
If Colson Whitehead’s powerful and surreal Pulitzer Prize winner piqued your curiosity, consider moving on to Policing the Black Man, edited by Angela Davis. This striking collection of essays is a comprehensive and immensely readable analysis of the key issues of the Black Lives Matter movement. The anthology is an exploration and critique of the criminal justice system and the way the system’s shortcomings inordinately fall on the African American community.
How Fifty Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture
If You’ve Read: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Try: All Your Base Are Belong to Us by Harold Goldberg
Ernest Cline’s nerdstravaganza, Ready Player One, is heading to the big screen. For those who couldn’t put down this near-future dystopia with its video game and pop-culture-obsessed trappings, All Your Base Are Belong to Us is just the ticket. With All Your Base, journalist Harold Goldberg takes a deep dive into the last fifty years of video game history and the way these games and the innovations within and around them have shaped pop culture in their meteoric rise to the top.
Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
If You’ve Read: Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag
Try: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery? As good as the fictional ones often are, this is one particular instance where real life is far stranger and unbelievable than virtually anything you’ll find in a novel. Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City traces one of America’s most notorious serial killers, Dr. H. H. Holmes. Holmes crafted a multi-room torture chamber in his sprawling home set along the grounds of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which unsurprisingly came to be known as the murder castle. Holmes may have claimed as many as twenty-seven victims before being hanged in 1896.
If You’ve Read: Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Try: Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson
With Swing Time, Zadie Smith turns her ambitious and focused prose skills to the issues of identity, class, and race. With Negroland, Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic Margo Jefferson gifts us with a true-to-life view into the themes that power Swing Time. Sitting firmly at the nexus of privilege, discrimination, and the fallacy of a post-racial America, Negroland is equal parts provocative and celebratory in its portrait of race in America.
Col. Chris Hadfield
If You’ve Read: The Martian by Andy Weir
Try: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
The Martian was a true literary success story, climbing its way from self-publication to the bestseller lists. To boot, its adaptation proved a box office smash. For readers caught in the thrall of Mark Watney’s fight for survival, check out astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield’s memoir, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. With 4,000-plus hours logged in space, Col. Hadfield has a wealth of larger-than-life stories ranging from his efforts to break into a Space Station with a Swiss Army Knife to disposing of a live snake while flying a plane to clinging for his life to the exterior of an orbiting spacecraft.
If You’ve Read: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Try: Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Trusted Servant by Tracy Borman
If Hilary Mantel’s bestselling work of historical fiction kept you on the edge of your seat with the comings and goings, back stabbings, and shady dealings that defined the court of Henry VIII, consider picking up a copy of Tracy Borman’s exhaustive and immensely readable account of Henry VIII’s right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell.
A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family's Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris
If You’ve Read: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Try: Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw
All the Light We Cannot See is a poignant and devastating look into the very human toll of World War II and it earned Anthony Doerr a Pulitzer Prize. Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw is a perfect follow-up. Kershaw’s book tells the true life story of an American doctor in occupied France who soon found himself caught up in the liberation movement. This stunning tale of a doctor-turned-master of espionage would be a brilliant next step for readers.
If You’ve Read: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Try: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
Over-the-top characters? Check. Polyamorous relations? Indeed. Feminist sex cults? You betcha. If you enjoyed the rollicking narrative and comic-book history lesson of Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize winner, then add The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore to your TBR pile. While the world of comic book publishing is full of real-life outsized characters and big personalities, Dr. William Moulton Marston is really in a league of his own. His creation of Wonder Woman is an oft-bizarre and hilarious and still somewhat unknown backstory of one of DC Comics’ most enduring heroes.
If You’ve Read: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Try: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Angie Thomas’s powerfully and topical novel, The Hate U Give, is a riveting and vital commentary on the complexities of race relations and the searing impact a police-involved shooting can have on a community. If Thomas’s brand of devastatingly insightful commentary caught your attention, add Between the World and Me to your must-reads. Ta-Nehisi Coates pivots between the larger tapestry of race relations and the more tightly focused portrait of a father’s concerns for his son. Within this framework, Coates creates a devastatingly powerful critique of the role of race in American society.
If You’ve Read: Chemistry by Weike Wang
Try: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
If you can’t quite manage to get Weike Wang’s Chemistry off your mind, Lab Girl might just do the trick. Hope Jahren’s memoir is both timely and brilliantly woven. While acclaimed scientist Jahren ostensibly puts the focus of her book on the trees and plants she’s dedicated her life to studying, what emerges from Lab Girl is a complex and remarkable portrait of a strong woman excelling in a profession in the face of professional hardship, harassment, and discrimination that is still unfortunately prevalent in the field of science.